Aggression can be a
positive or a negative trait in children, depending on how it’s
channeled. Some aggressive kids start fights, while others put their
energy into sports and hobbies. An aggressive child may be
adventurous, taking risks and making discoveries, or he may be
merely reckless. He may excel in school by putting extra effort into
all his work, or he may do poorly in school because of bad behavior.
Parents don’t worry about a child who is positively aggressive. He
will be rewarded for his energy enthusiasm, and drive. What parents
do worry about is a child who, at six to nine years old, is
belligerent and offensive to others.
Children who were aggressive as preschoolers often show less
negative behavior as they get older because their energy is focused
on school, friends, play, and organized activities. Still, many
early elementary-aged children show occasional aggression and some
are consistently rough. Parents need to watch and carefully control
children’s aggressive behavior.
First, they should clearly tell their child what is and isn’t
appropriate. A child doesn’t know how to act if his parents send
confusing messages. Some try to excuse their child’s aggression by
saying, “Oh, that’s just how boys act,” or, “At least he doesn’t
hide his feelings.” Such attitudes don’t teach him that his negative
behavior is unacceptable.
Instead of being ambiguous, they should tell him that fighting, hit
ting, and using abusive language is unacceptable: “I absolutely
won’t allow you to behave that way.” Parents also should state the
consequences of negative behavior so he knows what to expect: “If
you treat Nick roughly, you’ll have to come inside.”
It’s important for parents to find the source of their child’s
aggression. He may be copying abuses he sees or receives at home. If
parents fight with each other, their child may fight with his
siblings or peers, either to imitate his parents or to alleviate his
feelings of fear, anger, and helplessness. If he doesn’t believe he
can get away with open fighting, he might become sneaky about it.
And if he feels his parents won’t listen to his feelings or change
the way they treat him, he may act out his frustration in aggressive
Some children are aggressive due to problems at school or because
they generally feel inferior. They attack others to feel more
powerful. Siblings sometimes fight because they think they’re being
treated unfairly or because their parents actually do treat them in
ways that encourage aggression, perhaps by favoring one or
belittling another. The roots of aggression are sometimes difficult
to find. If aggressive behavior continues over a long period,
parents may need the guidance of a professional counselor.
In most cases, however positive action taken by parents is enough to
help a child control his behavior. They can offer him alternative
ways to release his aggressive feelings and they can become role
models for him.
If your child has a lot of aggressive energy involve him in
activities such as gymnastics, soccer, basketball, or another sport
that will offer him a natural physical release for his emotions.
When he’s angry, he can’t hit a friend, but he can kick a ball.
Talk to him about acceptable ways to express his feelings: “When
you’re angry enough to hit your brother, you have to let him know
with words, not actions. Tell him what’s making you so mad.” “If you
feel yourself getting out of control, don’t hit—come to me for
Let him see how you handle aggressive feelings in your own life.
Show him how you talk out your problems, take time to cool off, or
go for a walk until you feel calm. Kids imitate their parents and,
if you can model appropriate behavior, he will learn from you.
Watch as he interacts with others. He may be aggressive in a playful
way, tugging on a friend’s shirt, teasing, pretending to be in a
wrestling match, or calling out insults. If the aggression seems
benign, don’t interfere. But such behavior can escalate, and even if
the tone stays playful, your child’s aggression can become very
annoying to others. If you see that happening, firmly step in:
“Suzanne doesn’t want you to push her like that.”
You can try to distract him and his friends with a new activity or
different topic of conversation: “Come on in for a snack,” “Why
don’t you show Sandy your new game?” “What did you think of the
movie you saw last night?”
If distraction doesn’t work, you have to take control. Place limits
on his aggressive behavior and tell him you expect him to change the
way he acts with his friends. The combination of your anger and your
ground rules—”No rough play or hitting”---may help him moderate his
He may simply not yet have the inner controls to halt his aggressive
behavior. That may be true even if he wants to change the way he
acts. Until he acquires control, he will need you to offer
guidelines and set limits.